With the Cricket World Cup just around the corner, the nation waits with bated breath for England’s dynamic young side to commence their campaign against South Africa in the tournament’s opening game on May 30.
And in a week when Eoin Morgan’s 15-man squad of enterprising stars – unequivocal favourites to lift the trophy for the first time ever – was finalised, The Lowry arts centre in Salford had a similar announcement of its own, unveiling a haunting LS Lowry depiction of an amateur cricket match painted in 1938.
The iconic A Cricket Match has been on public display just twice before, once in 1939 – when Lowry, from Lancashire, chose to include it in a London exhibition – and briefly again in 1996 when art brokers Sotheby’s made it visible in a pre-auction showcase.
Collector Neil Smith snapped it up for a world record £282,000 that year, a purchase that soon saw it exiled to the United States for over 20 years.
However, with the Cricket World Cup’s imminent advent on home soil, prominent figures in the industry are delighted to see it return to its ‘spiritual home’ in Manchester.
Nick Hemming-Brown, an art specialist at Sotheby’s, said: “The timing could not be more perfect with the Cricket World Cup coming up, so we’re thrilled and hugely excited to have it unveiled here at the Lowry and back in its spiritual home.
“The work is one of Lowry’s early masterpieces, and Lowry depicting a cricket match in play is very, very rare, so hopefully we can get lots of people interested and start lots of local activity.”
That cricket scenes in Lowry’s collection are so rare makes its appearance at the arts centre even more special, a truly unique piece of work that will be available for public consumption over this upcoming bank holiday weekend.
Indeed, only three oil paintings of cricket exist in Lowry’s collection, one of which – a work on paper – was solid to the MCC in 2017.
And such is the rarity and joyousness of A Cricket Match, Sotheby’s are estimating that it could fetch up to £1.2million in auction on June 18.
Simon Hucker, senior specialist for modern and post-war British art at Sotheby’s, said: “This exceptional painting is a ‘classic’ Lowry, depicting the hard life of the industrial cities at the turn of the 20th century.
“It is also quite rare in its depiction of a cricket match, even though cricket has always been very much part of Manchester life.”
Situated just round the corner from Old Trafford – that will host a number of high-profile fixtures during the World Cup – it is also hoped that the painting’s five-day, Jos Buttler-esque cameo will engender considerable interest in the city.
“Coinciding with the Cricket World Cup, this special exhibition in Lowry’s beloved Salford is a fantastic opportunity for art lovers and cricket fans alike to see a different element of Lowry’s world-view,” Hucker said.
The display also comes ahead of the release of a new feature film – Mrs Lowry & Son – about Lowry starring Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave, a picture that depicts the relationship between the artist (Spall) and his mother Elizabeth (Redgrave).
And coupled with the summer of cricket about to commence on British shores, such a combination makes for the most fitting timing of all.
Claire Stewart, curator of the Lowry Collection, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to be able to share this work with our visitors.
“With the release of Mrs Lowry & Son this summer there’s a real buzz at the moment about his story and his journey as an artist, and it’s great to have the chance to display a work few people will have seen before.
“Obviously with the Cricket World Cup coming up as well, it’s a perfect storm.”
Following its Manchester exhibition this weekend, A Cricket Match will return to London prior to its pre-auction display at Sotheby’s on June 14.
If the painting has anywhere near as much success as England’s cricketers are predicted to achieve this summer, it should end up doing very well indeed.